FORT WORTH - The same El Nino that's led to a calmer hurricane season is expected to bring a wetter, colder winter to Texas and the southern U.S., weather experts said Tuesday.
This year's El Nino, the periodic warming of the central Pacific Ocean, is moderate compared to the weather pattern that was the strongest on record in 1997-1998, said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center.
That event led to flooding in Chile, heavy rainfall in California and Florida, and a mild winter in the Midwest, weather officials said.
In Texas this winter, the much-needed rainfall could finally help the drought that has caused more than $3.6 billion in crop and livestock losses since late 2008, said Bill Proenza, the weather service's director for the southern region.
Texas leads the nation in cotton and cattle production and is the nation's second-largest agriculture state, behind California.
The drought is the worst in the region south of San Antonio, which has received about half the normal rainfall the past two years, weather officials said.
"For the last two years the outlook has been for below-normal precipitation in that area, so we're headed in the right direction," Proenza said. "We're certainly more optimistic."
Weather officials spoke Tuesday in Fort Worth during the first of three statewide stops this week to discuss El Nino's effect on the fall and winter forecast. They also warned of increased chances of flooding and heavier snowfall.
El Nino led to the heaviest snowfalls in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, 17.6 inches in the winter of 1977-78, and in Waco, 7.6 inches in the winter of 1963-64, said Bill Bunting, meteorologist-in-charge at the weather service's Fort Worth office.
Although the weather may call for bundling up in heavy coats and scarves, the chances of bitter low temperatures -- 15 degrees or lower - actually are diminished, weather officials said.
The more information residents have about expected weather conditions, "the more resilient they will be," Proenza said.